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A Sweet Fall Harvest

This viney tuber is ready in your ­garden or at farmers markets

     The morning glory family, Convolvulaceae, gives us the wonderful sweet potato. Sweet potato plants grow as a vine that is content to creep along the ground. Maryland has a great climate for growing sweet potatoes, which need about four months of nice warm weather.
     If you’ve got sweet potatoes in your garden, now is the time to start digging these tubers. You want to get them out of the ground as the leaves start turning brown, especially before the nights go below 50 degrees. After the tubers are dug, they should be washed and put in a humid environment at 70 to 80 degrees. Spread them out to cure for about 10 days to toughen the skin. After curing, store them in a cool room in the house, discarding any with signs of rot.
      Now’s also the time sweet potatoes flood farmers markets and groceries. Not all sweet potato varieties are bright orange. They can range from white to yellow to deep orange-red. The paler ones have a different texture, firmer, less moist and less sweet. You’ll often see the orange types labeled as yams, which is a misnomer.
     In cooking, simple is best. They need no added sugar. Bake them in the oven, slit them and add a pat of butter. You can also slice them and sprinkle with olive oil and Old Bay seasoning, baking in a 400-degree oven until the edges are crisp.
      Try growing your own next year. Sweet potatoes grow from slips. Order them from a seed catalog. They come looking like dead plants. Put them in a jar of water, and they will revive and grow more roots until you can plant them. Or start your own slips by setting a tuber upright in moist sand. Pull off the slips and put them in water to root before being planted in the garden.  Alternately, you can put a sweet potato in a vase of water with three or four toothpicks poked in around the sides to keep it from sinking.
      Plant your slips root-down after all danger of frost has passed in spring, usually about mid-May.
      In growing sweet potatoes, the goal is to produce nice fat roots. You need a moderately fertile, mineral-rich, slightly acidic soil. If you use a fertilizer with too much nitrogen, you’ll get a lot of vine growth but skinny tubers. Incorporate a lot of compost into your sweet potato bed.
     Voles like the sweet tasty roots, so I have a special raised bed lined with half-inch hardware cloth wire on the bottom to keep out these greedy little critters.
Time to … 
Bring in Green Tomatoes 
Full size green tomatoes can be brought indoors to ripen. They ripen more quickly in a paper bag with a banana or apple. The ethylene gas released from the fruit will help to ripen the tomatoes.
–The University of Maryland Extension 
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